Although efforts are complicated by the COVID outbreak, the Child Reintegration Centre continues to identify children at risk, working in collaboration with Street Child UK. Here are a few recent case of rescue and reintegration.
Patricia and her cousin Anita, originally from Bonthe District, had been sent to Bo to live with a family friend so they could attend primary school. The "aunty" had a small business peddling between Bonthe and Bo. The three of them were living happily together until the aunty had a stroke and could no longer ply her trade. Life became very difficult, as the only way to survive was to sell bunches of potato and cassava leaves gathered from the swamp near their home.
One day, the girls had been sent out to sell Le 40,000 worth of potato leaves (about $4). As they were walking home, Anita accidentally dropped the money. The girls were afraid they would be punished for losing the money, so they ran away. Like so many street children, they slept in the market stalls, rising early each morning to go in search of food and odd jobs. The girls had been on the street for three or four weeks when the CRC case managers were made aware of their situation. The CRC traced their aunty and reunited her with the girls. They have been enrolled in the CRC's family support program, and will continue attending classes when schools reopen. The assistance their family receives eases the financial pressure, and ensures the girls can stay in school. The CRC case managers continue to work with the family to help them cope with their challenges.
12 year old Mariama's story is similar. Her mother left the father of her four children, taking Mariama with her, to marry a man who makes his living as a palm wine tapper in Bo. Palm wine is a fermented beverage made from the sap of palm trees, popular throughout Africa. Life became very difficult for Mariama's mother and stepfather and Mariama was expected to help the family survive by selling palm oil around the neighborhood. One day, she misplaced some of the earnings and ran away from home to escape punishment.
Mariama slept on the verandas of various homes, until she came to the notice of Street Child UK, who contacted the CRC.
The CRC traced the family and quickly realized how vulnerable they are. "At times it is difficult to have a day’s meal," Mariama's mother told the case mangers. The family has been enrolled in the CRC family support program, and they are happy to have Mariama returned to them.
After the death of their father in Mattru Jong, Salamatu and her elder sister moved to Bo. Salamatu's sister enrolled her in an Islamic primary school, and she was eventually able to promote to Junior Secondary. After that, things started to fall apart. “Life became difficult for my sister and husband. I started selling cold water and foofoo on the street to make ends meet,” Salamatu says. The husband sometimes became angry with her and threw her out of the house. “This kept on going on for some time, until one day I decided to follow some of my friends to the street.” Salamatu was brought to the CRC by Street Child UK, and has been placed with a caregiver.
Nine-year old Rugiatu was staying in a house with her mother and other adults when her mother disappeared, abandoning her daughter to the streets of Bo. “I came home one evening to find out that my mother was not home," she told CRC case managers. "I went to see in our neighbor’s house, thinking she would come the next day. But since then, I have not seen her.” Rugiatu isn't sure of her mother's name, and has no idea where her mother may have gone.
After her mother's disappearance, Rugiatu squatted in various houses, and did odd jobs for money or food. A visitor from London learned about Rugiatu's situation and was moved to help her. The kind woman enrolled the child in school, provided food for her, and allowed her to occasionally stay at her home.
When the woman planned to return to London, she asked a neighbor named Lucia to care for Rugiatu. Lucia heard about the Child Reintegration Centre and contacted them for help. With the oversight of the Ministry of Social Welfare, the CRC enrolled Rugiatu in Tier 2 support and Lucia has happily agreed to become her caregiver.
The Child Reintegration Centre staff took to the streets of Bo this past week to teach proper hand washing techniques, especially seeking out street children who are very vulnerable to contagious disease.
The country has been extremely proactive against the disease, initiating prevention protocols such as school closings, cancelling gatherings of more than 10 people (including weddings and funerals), and reactivating the hand washing stations of the Ebola time. CRC and Mercy plan to supply the communities they serve with "Veronica" buckets for hand washing stations, bars of soap, disposable towels (serviettes), and lidded garbage cans to improve sanitary conditions. You can support their COVID response by donating here.
The CRC created a short video to teach proper handwashing, which has been their standard practice since the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak. To get ahead of COVID transmission, the entire country of Sierra Leone was in a 72 hour lock down from Sunday April 5 through Tuesday April 7.
While the Child Reintegration Centre continues to provide vital education support, medical access, and family mentoring to nearly 600 children and youth and their families, the busy staff is also rescuing unaccompanied children from the streets of Bo. CRC Director Olivia Fonnie spent some time getting to know these boys, while their situation is assessed. The Child Reintegration Centre is collaborating with local organization Street Child UK, which estimates there are as many as 6,500 children living on the streets of Bo.
The Child Reintegration Centre has launched its initiative to rescue street children, collaborating with local organization Street Child UK, which estimates there are as many as 6,500 children living on the streets of Bo. These children may have escaped violence in the home, or they may have been abandoned by parents who are too poor to provide for them. They are in desperate need of shelter, food, education, and a family to love them. This is the case with Momodu and Momoh, brothers identified by Street Child and rescued by the CRC.
Momodu, 14 and Momoh, 12, are from a family of 10 children, of whom four died. The family, originally from a village near Bo, began to fall apart when their mother fled the abuse of her alcoholic husband. She took her daughter, but left the five boys to fend for themselves. Momodu soon ran away, landing on the streets of Bo. He survived by begging for empty cartons from shop owners, which he sold to market women for a few cents. Sometimes he sold metal scraps that he gathered from garages.
Eventually Momodu tired of the rough street life and returned to his village, but the home situation had not changed. His father gave him and his brother Momoh a little money to travel to their auntie's home in Bo, where two of their brothers had gone to escape the turmoil of their home. Sadly, their aunt also turned them away because she had no room for them.
Alone and abandoned, Momodu and Momoh had nowhere to turn but the street. They washed dishes for a woman who sold food at night. In payment, she gave them a little food and money. They slept in market stalls, where they were discovered by Street Child UK, who referred them to the CRC.
The CRC staff brought the brothers into the interim home, took them to Mercy Hospital for testing, and began counseling. The CRC is tracing their family to identify a safe home for them. They want to go back to school, but for the time being, they are so happy to be at the CRC.